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It Ended Too Soon

Photo Courtesy: Gary McCollough
Photo Courtesy: Gary McCollough

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - - It ended too soon.

A fingernail away from the Round of 32.

Despite 35 points and 11 rebounds from senior All-America candidate Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.), Belmont University men's basketball dropped a 79-77 decision to Maryland Thursday in the 2019 NCAA Tournament from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

Still riding a wave of energy and momentum from Selection Sunday and Tuesday's inspiring victory over Temple in Dayton, Belmont led from the opening tip.

Freshman Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio) capped a 10-0 Belmont run that gave the Bruins a 26-14 lead 11 minutes in.

Riding strong team defense and the play of Windler and senior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.), Belmont led 40-34 at halftime.

Maryland would score the first 14 points of the second half to claim a 48-40 lead, but Belmont responded in kind.

Dealing with foul trouble to freshman Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.), Muszynski and junior Seth Adelsperger (Peru, Ind.), Belmont nevertheless fought on with resilient play.

Windler put on a dazzling display of perimeter shooting and determined finishes at the rim, willing Belmont back.

In a game featuring four ties and nine leads changes, Belmont seized a 51-50 lead on a Windler 3-pointer.

Maryland went back on top before consecutive rim-rocking slams from Adelsperger put Belmont ahead 57-56 and sent the partisan Bruin crowd into a frenzy.

After battling Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith inside, four straight Windler points made the score 67-60 with 6:58 to go.

But a series of strange bounces and difficult sequences kept Maryland alive.

After a Windler backdoor slam, Belmont got a stern blocked shot from Muszynski on a Fernando post move; but in the mass scrum for the loose ball, Jalen Smith completed a conventional 3-point play slam to give Maryland a 77-73 lead with 1:43 remaining.

Following an exchange of free throws, Muszynski buried a wing 3-pointer to get Belmont within 78-77 with 59 seconds left.

Belmont proceeded to get a defensive stop and held for the final shot to win the game. But as freshman Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.) looked to feed Windler on a backdoor play, Eric Ayala got a deflection which led to Maryland possession.

Darryl Morsell increased Maryland's lead to two points with under three seconds remaining with one free throw. Morsell proceeded to miss the second free throw, and Windler's final shot from near midcourt to win narrowly missed.

Belmont committed only five turnovers.

McClain added 19 points and six rebounds.

Belmont's historic season ends at 27-6.

Windler, McClain and Mack Mercer conclude their Belmont careers with 94 victories.